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Doug Goehring, Published January 04 2014

Letter: Editorial miscasts concerns

The Forum’s Dec. 27 editorial: “Time to protect key spots,” unfairly scrutinizes recent North Dakota Industrial Commission discussions on a proposal for safe-guarding “extra-ordinary places” from oil and gas exploration and development.

Rather than taking exception to the editorial’s description of my comments as “straw man concerns about restrictions that would hamstring farmers and ranchers,” I choose to take it as a compliment. These concerns are valid and take issue with policies that have implications for agriculture. Raising concerns about policies and regulations that affect agriculture producers is what I strive for as agriculture commissioner.

So what are my concerns?

First: Good policies are in place. Why change policies to rules that may create liability that could be challenged in court for denying or granting a permit. With policy you can consider all aspects of a situation, such as soil type, slope, topography, adjacent water bodies, where a rule creates a rigid one-size-fits-all approach.

It is truly about process though, a process that mitigates risk and minimizes impacts. The current process could be refined with plenty of opportunity for public input. Refining this process with current mechanisms would achieve the goals of the proposed initiative; however, it would do so more efficiently and effectively.

Second: The proposal uses up valuable human resources.

The staff at the Oil and Gas Division tell me more people will be needed to handle the documentation associated with the new rules. Frankly, if we are going to hire more employees in the division, I would rather they be field inspectors. As the editorial points out: “North Dakota regulators are approving 200 to 300 drilling permits every month.” We need to continue to keep close watch on every one of them.

Third: Why just 18 “extraordinary places,” why not all of North Dakota?

The proposal implies that care and attention is not given to every permit, which is false. Gov. Arthur Link, himself a western rancher, reminded us the day will come “when the landscape will be quiet again.” When that day comes, I want land to be as close to original as it was before, whether it is a scenic overlook, a historic battlefield, a wildlife sanctuary or a farmer’s pasture. Our land, all of it, is our most valuable resource, and proper reclamation is and should be our primary focus.

And finally, how do these newly proposed regulations affect agriculture? If established, could these zones also restrict cultivation, irrigation, grazing and other farming practices, as well as oil development? Will we limit the “visual impacts” to one industry or might they extend beyond drilling to impact windmills and grain bins?

Goehring is North Dakota commissioner of agriculture.